Tragedy of 'terrifying' Whistler track
Now that two days have passed since Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili's death, I finally feel I can blog about the whole tragic experience.
Some TV networks out here are still showing the incident. I can't imagine why anyone would want to see it and I wish they'd stop. It's something I never want to have to witness again.
At the time of the accident I'd been making a feature for BBC Sport on the sliding track - about how fast and difficult it was - so I'd already been talking at length to sliders and watching the lugers training.
Without exception, every athlete and coach told me it was the most difficult, fastest track they'd ever seen. Many of them, including the world number one Canadian skeleton slider Melissa Hollingsworth, went as far as calling it "dangerous".
But this is the Olympics and, as well as being a bit worried about the track, most of the athletes were relishing the challenge. Melissa actually attributed part of her recent success to the fact she'd had so many crashes on the track. She told me it had made her as good as she is.
Well, Melissa is one of the lucky ones who has had plenty of access to the track. The Canadians have been busy training on it since it opened last season. The rest of the world has had to make do with one World Cup event, a week's training and their three days of pre-event runs at the Olympics.
As part of my feature I'd filmed a series of pieces to camera up at the Whistler Sliding Centre. The area is known to be home to bears and we'd all seen Canadian TV pictures of a bear almost climbing onto the ice last year, so I'd mentioned something along the lines of "the athletes don't need to be afraid of the wild animals roaming around the area - this track is all they need to worry about."
Those words clearly seem crass now. But again, the track's extreme level of difficulty was in everyone's minds long before the tragedy.
The organisers had changed it before the Games to make it safer. One corner in particular - corner 13, nicknamed "50-50" due to the odds of crashing there - had been altered. It was where Britain's sole luger here, AJ Rosen, dislocated his hip last September, wrecking his season.
But nothing had slowed the record speeds lugers were clocking up. The vertical drop and gradient of the track meant they were almost hitting 100mph. The BBC's commentator here, Colin Bryce, told me: "Those speeds make corners that would be fine on any other track absolutely terrifying here."
I spoke to a senior member of the organising team for the sliding events the day before Kumaritashvili died and asked, "Is it safe?"
"Yes," was his categoric reply. I also asked, "Has anyone ever fallen out of a track, because there doesn't seem much to keep them in here?"
Again, I was told this would never happen. "Gravity would stop anyone ever leaving the track." How wrong we all were.
Safety improvements were made to the track after Kumaritashvili's death
Of course it's not for me to comment on whether all of the above contributed to the death of Kumaritashvili. That's down to the International Luge Federation, Vanoc and the police. Their investigation has concluded it was the athlete's fault.
The President of Georgia has subsequently disputed that conclusion, saying "no sports mistake should result in death." I'm inclined to agree with him.
It always feels harsh when someone has died and is then blamed for their own death. It's like when a plane or helicopter comes down and the coroner says "pilot error". Clearly the reason for a death needs to be established but I wish they could find some other way of describing it.
Having looked at the ice where Kumaritashvili crashed you can see his line was far too high coming out of the final corner - about three feet too high. But I've just read it was actually the fourth time he'd come off his sled at that point.
Now the ice has been cut back to soften the final corner. Boarding has been put up where he left the track and the men are now starting from the womens' start (although that has only cut their speeds by between five and 10mph).
Meanwhile, the whole of Georgia is in mourning. They plan to build a new luge track in the country to replace the one destroyed by war. It will be named after Kumaritashvili.
It's been said this will probably be the last of the big, fast sliding tracks to be built for an Olympics. Maybe we've reached the limit of human possibilities on a sled and ice. All we can do is just pray a tragedy like this will never happen again.